Thou Shalt Not Dance
Q: Why are Baptists against pre-marital sex?
A: They're afraid it might lead to dancing.
What is God's view of dancing? We might as well try to discern God's view of clapping. Dancing itself is not sinful. But like clapping, dancing by its very nature always "glorifies" or "celebrates" or "praises" something else. And like clapping, dancing is sinful or holy depending on the object being glorified.
For example, you are at a football game. Your team converts third and fifteen to a first down. You are happy. You clap. Perhaps you shout, "Yeah!" Why do you clap? Because you are "celebrating" the good play. You are "glorifying" the team. Your clapping says, "Look at that team. Look at that good play." Who dares to say that your clapping is sin?
Later, your team scores a touchdown in the closing seconds, sealing a victory. You spontaneously jump out of your seat, yelling loudly, clapping hands above your head, high-fiving your friend next to you, jumping up and down and enjoying an extended celebration. Maybe you even wiggle a little funny because you have just that extra little bit of euphoria. Yes, you are "dancing." Dancing is clapping with your whole body. Again, your body is saying, "Yay team!"
The object being glorified is the team, or the particular play. These objects are not sinful, so it is not sinful to celebrate them (within reason--obviously we should not worship the team).
Now consider the players. The one who scored the winning touchdown may celebrate with a victory dance in the end zone. Here we have a situation that is more difficult to discern. What is his object? We cannot see into his heart. To the extent that his dance is a glorification of himself over other players, he is sinning. But the player who thrills in victory with his teammates, and better yet who understands the ultimately low significance of any particular football game in God's eternity, may yet celebrate gladly and vigorously without sinning.
With the understanding that dancing is just an exaggerated form of clapping, a way of celebrating, praising, and glorifying some object, we can discern the sinfulness of it to the extent that we can examine the object.
Now you are standing outside an abortion clinic. An abortion doctor comes out at the end of the day and announces, "I murdered twenty babies today." You clap, because you support and believe in this man's work. You believe he is liberating women from unjust oppression. In your clapping, you sin, because you are glorifying sin. Dance if you want to. Speak words of praise. It does not matter. Any celebration of sin is sin.
In the NASB, there are twenty-four occurrences of the English words "dance," "danced," "dances," and "dancing." Out of these, nine mention dancing in a context that is unquestionably righteous (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14; 6:16; Psalm 30:11; 149:3; 150:4; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Jeremiah 31:4; 31:13). Four are examples that are probably righteous (1 Samuel 18:6; 21:11; 29:5; Luke 15:25). Four are examples that are unquestionably evil (Exodus 32:19; 1 Samuel 30:16; Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:22). And in seven cases it is not clear what if any judgment is passed on the dancing mentioned (Judges 11:34; 21:21; 21:23; Song of Solomon 6:13; Lamentations 5:15; Matthew 11:17; Luke 7:32).
Miriam's dancing in Exodus 15:20 was unquestionably righteous because her object was Yahweh. She celebrated his victory and glorified his name with singing and dancing. After walking through the Red Sea on dry ground, it would be sin not to sing and dance! Imagine the whole assembly of Israelites politely clapping and then continuing on their way!
The people's dancing in Exodus 32:19 was unquestionably sinful because their object was the golden calf, their false god, a dead idol. They celebrated and glorified a lie, (verse 4: "This [calf] is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.").
What shall we say about the typical government high school dance? There are many "objects" being celebrated in such a place. I will mention the two most obvious.
The first object is the music. We do not need to look at anyone's body movements to know that the young men and women are committing adultery in their hearts. Just listening to the music (that is, listening and enjoying the music) is sinful. How much more sinful it is to glorify such music with dancing. Consider these lyrics from a song that is not cutting edge: "Touch me, touch me. I want to feel your body. Your heartbeat close to mine. Touch me, touch me now!" The dancers are celebrating a lie, saying with their bodies, "This is great music; these are great words." The incarnation of evil words can only result in evil behavior.
The second object is the wiggling bodies themselves. At a typical government high school dance, the body movements glorify sexual body parts and celebrate sexual immorality. The daughter of Herodias (Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:22) moved her body in a distinctive and qualitatively different way from the way that Miriam moved her body. Out of the overflow of the heart the body moves. The one who dances to glorify God moves differently from the one who dances to glorify sin.
We need not over-analyze the fine points of movement, for some movements could easily fit into either kind of dance. The real issue is heart motivation. What is the object of our movements? This is true for dancing, clapping, and singing. It is even true for feeding hungry people, attending church, and reading the Bible. You fast twice a week? Why?
We cannot prevent unbelievers from making fun of us, nor should we try, for according to them, we believe in a foolish message (1 Corinthians 1:18). Yet we can avoid bringing excess ridicule on ourselves and holding to an unnecessarily extreme and unbiblical morality. If we are ridiculed, let it be because we love Jesus, and not because we love rules taught by men. Dancing is not in itself sinful. Adultery is sin, whether committed in the heart or in the flesh.